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In an oft-quoted poem Robert Frost wrote about "the road not taken." In our town this winter, folks are more likely to talk about "the road not plowed."
I know it's not easy being a plow-truck driver for our town, or any town for that matter, which is probably why the vast majority of townspeople never even apply for the job. But at this time of year - when snowstorms seem to be arriving on a daily basis - the condition of town roads is a topic of conversation everywhere in town people gather.
"Why don't they begin plowing sooner?”
“Why don't they make more frequent passes through town?”
“Why don't they use more salt?”
“How come there's so much snow on the roads when they claim they're finished plowing?”
“Why don't they plow driveways while they're at it?”
I'm sure we've all asked questions like these ourselves at some time over the years, and I'm also sure most of us have what we think are snappy answers to most of them.
From the town's point of view they always have truckloads of reasons to explain why the roads aren't plowed sooner or better and all their reasons, of course, involve money. If we had more money we could buy bigger and better trucks and hire more skilled drivers who could plow longer hours and spread a higher-grade salt and then everything would be fine. But town officials know that - come town meeting in March - taxpayers would never approve enough money to do what those same taxpayers want done out on the town roads during a snowstorm.
It's not my intention here to try and explain why town roads in Maine are the way they are after a snowstorm - they just are. It is my intention here to try and mitigate the suffering and frustration of the season by reminding readers of how bad things were in the past. There's nothing like past miseries to make present miseries melt away. Today's snow “issues” are nothing when compared with storms of the old days.
When talk turns to snow and storms someone will eventually mention the most famous snowstorm in American history - the Blizzard of 1888. Even though there have been bigger and better blizzards in American history, the Blizzard of '88 has acquired an almost legendary status. They say things were so bad in New York after that blizzard that the city decided to build its famous subway so people could get around snow or no snow.
Just so we know what we're talking about here, the U.S. Weather Service defines a blizzard as a storm with winds of more than 35 miles an hour and snow that limits visibility to 500 feet or less. A “severe blizzard” is defined as having winds exceeding 45 miles an hour, visibility of a quarter mile or less, and temperatures of 10 degrees or lower.
As far as I know we haven't come near those conditions so far this season, although knowledge of that probably doesn't make driving any easier. Just be grateful that the guys down at the town garage haven't had to handle a “severe blizzard” so far this season.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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